AirPort Extreme Base Station: Works with a Graphite Base Station to create a roaming network

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
June 7th, 2006 • 3:07 pm

A while ago, I wrote about the fact that I was no longer able to create a roaming network with my two old Graphite Base Station (connected to each other with a long Ethernet cable running through the attic).

This is something that I used to be able to do in the first couple of years after I acquired the Titanium PowerBook G4 (with its abysmal AirPort signal reception) back in 2001. Even with my pokey dial-up connection, I was able to extend the AirPort network (thereby improving the range within which I could use the PowerBook in the house) by creating a roaming network where the main base station (the one connected to the Internet via dial-up) would be connected to a secondary base station via Ethernet and the second base station could thus act as a “relay” of sorts and extend the range of the main base station.

(Graphite base stations did not support WDS, which is a technology that was introduced in the AirPort Extreme base stations.)

Then all of a sudden one day it stopped working, and I was never able to get it back. I didn’t fancy buy two brand new AirPort Extreme Base Stations just to be able to create a roaming network, so I simply gave up on it altogether, and we ended up being restricted to using the PowerBook in only one wing (= approx. 1/3) of the house.

Over the past couple of years, I went through various stages, first suspecting Mac OS X 10.3 itself (the failure started around the time I upgraded our machines to 10.3, back in 2003), then suspecting some AirPort software update.

Indeed, one particular change I notice at some point was that the AirPort Admin Utility would no longer allow me to configure the main base station to manually share a range of IP addresses (typically between and, with the base station itself being If I checked the option to share a range of IP addresses, AirPort Admin would display a warning saying that this was not possible without a fixed public IP address for the base station. Since the base station obtained its Internet connection and its public IP address through a dial-up connection, there was just no way that I could get a fixed IP address.

So I had no option but to select the “Share a single IP address” option for the base station instead. This worked OK for devices that were within the range of the AirPort Base Station. They would still be able to obtain an IP address between and, even though I was no longer able to specify the range myself manually.

I never quite grasped the conceptual difference between the two options, since the end results appeared to be the same. But I filed a bug report with Apple just the same, because this error message was something new, that didn’t appear in older versions of the OS or AirPort software, which used to let me define the IP range manually with no difficulty, even with a dial-up connection.

To their credit, Apple did get back to me on this a couple of times, asking me to send them a detailed graphic of my actual network setup, etc. But they never provided a solution.

And then just last year for some reason I decided to try and switch my two AirPort Base Stations, i.e. to replace the main one that I was currently using with the other one that I was no longer using because I couldn’t get the roaming thing to work.

And that’s when I realized that the other AirPort Base Station was actually defective! It would come on fine after being plugged in and its LEDs would flash appropriately, but then I was never able to see the base station via AirPort.

After much testing, I discovered that the base station was not completely dead, but that the AirPort side of things was dead. In other words, the base station would still come on, and I would still able to access it and configure it with AirPort Admin via its Ethernet connection, but the AirPort side of things no longer worked at all.

Obviously, for an AirPort Base Station, that is somewhat inconvenient. I took the base station apart and tried to see if anything was visibly wrong, but I couldn’t see anything. The Lucent card was still properly seated inside and nothing was loose. So I concluded that some of the wireless circuitry was simply dead, and that the ABS was no good anymore.

At that stage, Graphite AirPort Base Stations were no longer sold by Apple, and there was no indication in Apple’s documentation that the newer AirPort Extreme Base Stations would work with a Graphite Base Station to create a roaming network, via an Ethernet connection, especially since AirPort Extreme base stations come with their own technology to extend the AirPort range, namely the WDS thing, which does not require an Ethernet connection between base stations.

So I never took the chance to buy an AirPort Extreme base station to see if it would work.

Then came the whole MacBook saga discussed at length in recent posts. One of the first things I discovered with the MacBook was that it couldn’t see AppleTalk printers over AirPort with my Graphite AirPort Base Station. Since the Graphite stations are no longer supported, I ended up ordering, rather reluctantly, a new AirPort Extreme.

I got it a couple of days ago and was able to verify that AppleTalk over AirPort does indeed work with the MacBook and with an AirPort Extreme Base Station. It only fails with a Graphite base station.

But then I also went through the MacBook’s mooing noise disaster at the same time, and ended up deciding to return the laptop and get a refund (minus a restocking fee, unfortunately).

When this happened, I was quite upset. And then the brand new AirPort Extreme (which I no longer needed, since I was returning the MacBook) started acting up, showing me 2 bars of signal out of 5 on my G5 Quad even though it was sitting less than 6 feet away from the computer.

It was probably nothing that a little bit of fiddling couldn’t fix, but at that stage I was so upset that I just picked up the phone and vented in the general direction of a hapless tech support representative, explaining that I had especially bought this new base station for the MacBook, that now the MacBook had turned out to be no good, so I no longer needed this new base station, and on top of everything it now appeared to be performing worse than my existing Graphite base station, even it was supposed to be five times better!

I was offered to send the AirPort Extreme base station back and get a full refund, with Apple also covering the shipping costs. But it would take a few days to organize.

I got an e-mail confirming all this the next day (yesterday), and telling me that FedEx stickers would be in the mail and get to me within a few days.

But then while waiting for this, I decided to fool around with the AirPort Extreme just a bit and in particular to determine if indeed it would work in an old-fashion roaming setup with the old Graphite Base Station that was still operational.

That’s what I did this afternoon. It took me a while to get it right, because it’s not easy to properly configure two different base stations when they both have the same network name and the same IP address ( and are both within range. But I eventually managed to set up the AirPort Extreme as the main base station with the and the DHCP server feature, sharing a “single” IP address (the one obtained from the dial-up connection) via DHCP with other devices connected to the wired network. And I configured the old Graphite base station by turning off the option to share its IP address and manually giving it the IP address and connecting it via Ethernet to the main AirPort Extreme.

I didn’t know if it would work and at first it didn’t seem that it would. I would be able to see the two base stations in AirPort Admin, but the AirPort status on the G5 would fail to see the Internet connection. And then I created a new network config from scratch on the G5 and, as if by magic, the correct AirPort status reappeared, with the “Connected to the Internet via the modem” line and the “Connect/Disconnect” button.


And the second base station (the old graphite), now located somewhere at the centre of the house, was indeed able to access the Internet through its Ethernet connection to the main base station, so I was able to use the Titanium PowerBook G4 in other sections of the house that were previous beyond the range of the base station in the office.

So, to make a long story short, it does look as if it’s possible to use an old Graphite base station combined with an AirPort Extreme base station is a “roaming network” type of setup.

It still doesn’t cover the whole house, because the PowerBook’s AirPort reception is so bad, but at least the laptop can now be used again in our main living room. It’s a nice bonus.

And I think I’ve decided I will keep this AirPort Extreme base station after all…

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